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Cinematic Skillset Series

Cinematic Skillset Series

Daily Schedule

Up early by 4:30 am – 5am

Writing for an hour.

Art study

Go to work … Come home.

Editing. Art study.

Bed by 10pm

Repeat.

This is my life now. A self-imposed cycle of scheduling in order to get more done in the course of a week. Lot’s to do even before the release of the first episode of ‘Self-Rising Flower’ and until further notice, all of this will be rather solo.

Life Assessment

I mentioned in the previous journal entry that I needed to get a different end up to match my writing. Predawn was executed well. So was Social Challenge. Thank god, somehow, being a ‘producer’ and successfully getting a project manifested from start to finish is not the problem. Only took some 40+ years to figure out dedicated structure.

The issues are in how I am behind the camera. I think I limped by for two short films and I want to get better.

With writing, I can sit behind MSWord or a pencil/paper and bang out a structured story flow — and turn it into a book or script in record time. Storytelling is not the problem. Even now, with a touch of writers block going on at the moment — I’m confident that will pass the moment I wake up. I write better – clearly – first thing in the morning. I can’t write for shit after a full day, so it’s mostly editing by that point.

A long while back, 2010-2011 — when I shot that really short film ‘Water Pest‘ — the goal then was to do what I’m about to do now: practice behind a camera. At the time, I had a cheap Panasonic handicam and did the best with what I had. I had actually lined up a set of smaller films to work on right behind that. Unfortunately, divorce and life issues were rearing their ugly head around this time so none of that got done.

(Updated: Look what I found!)

That’s what makes this time in my life so special. How the fuck did I survive 2010-2020, purchase a house, great day job and shoot two films, finish two novels and record a ten-part podcast series?

Relatively unscathed. My family is doing well. Still grateful and appreciative as I started out.

Any remnant bitching and moaning I have — looking back and remembering the shit years suddenly — I feel embarrassed for even suggesting that I might have any complaints about where I am not in my life or where I want to be. I may not have expressed it here, but personally I’ve been recently wondering when I was going to hit that upward tear both professionally and financially. The answer is: I already in the upward swing and I have to stop being a greedy bastard.

I have a lot more than the dead.

I have a lot more than the person out there that claims to want to be a writer but spends his/her time posting on Facebook each and every day instead.

This is an apology to myself for having the hint of self-pity and eradicating that is underway.

Life is very good for me right now and I am happier than I’ve allowed myself to be. Wanting more isn’t a problem.

Whining about it is.

Doing nothing to make those steps to have more gradually is also a problem.

Cinematic Skillset

As mentioned, I want to improve my filmmaking skills behind the camera. I tried jumping on other peoples projects, for free or otherwise, and that’s a cluster fuck because when you figure out project executional awareness, and you get lumped with a crew or production without it, the hair’s on the back of my neck start rising. Worse yet, some of them won’t listen.

So, it’s been safer for me to just do my own thing. Working on other people’s projects is a no go from now until eternity UNLESS they shut the fuck up and follow my instructions to get the project done.

That’s with or without money.

Save me on the ‘Well, that’s their vision’ bullshit. They can keep their vision — but can they get their heads out of their ass to get the project from A to Z? That’s where I excel at: removing head (a) from ass (b) to complete project (c).

Don’t even get me started with writing for someone else. They’re not ready. I’ll save them from the violence of tearing their plot apart. I’m pretty much like Thanos when it comes to working on someone else’s story. Half of it has to go in order for the other half to thrive.

Yes, I decide the half.

I came up with three reasonable short films that are manageable to enhance the skillset. Manageable meaning:

  1. Shot with the equipment I already own (for the exception of a lens rental)
  2. Shot in my home and/or in the neighborhood.
  3. Minimal cast of zero to five people.

Let me also address that all of these are ‘permission’ free. There are some internal insecurities that I am smashing in order to get things done.

One of them is the “Hey! I’m working on a project. What do you think?” to anyone who will listen.

This is an old holdover emotion back over the years I thought I would be able to have people work on things with me and getting their opinions would matter. We all know how getting folks to ‘collaborate’ turned out, and sucking in the opinion of someone who isn’t up early, working closely with me or even putting up half production costs is fucking stupid. No ones opinion matters more than mine when I have to go in my own pocket and I’m doing 100% of the effort to put it together. I never wanted it this way — but even I know I needed to learn to have much more integrity for my ideas and get them done even if someone else doesn’t think it’ll work. I think I’d have much more content if I stopped listening to people in the past.

Storyboard Quality

Fun fact: I have this schedule to get up early to do some writing (particularly Self-Rising Flower) but I’ve hit a snag on that story creatively (writers block). I also have it scheduled to keep a regular journal entry going on in DesktopEpics — which this journal entry satisfies. I kept to my schedule to write for the morning. Even as I write this very sentence, I’m looking at an episode of Self-Rising Flower script open in the second screen — and for the life of me I can’t figure out the next part to write. So, I write more of the journal.

I never  liked my hand-drawn artwork for storyboards. They look like shit mad sketches by an insane person rushing to accomplish something. Hate, hate, hate my artwork!

However, what I hate equally, is hiring someone at extortion level fees to draw my direction. I did that a few times and I end up looking at some really well crafted storyboard art, not in the camera angles I’m looking for, and needing to pay extra fees for updates.

Midjourney is interesting to capture a realistic frame. Sometimes in interesting camera angles I didn’t think of. The downside: by the time I come up with the right prompt to get the right angle and feel I’m looking for, I can just as soon draw it myself multiple times over.

Predawn and The Social Challenge were supposed to have storyboards, as any normal film should. I had a year to get them together for Predawn. The end results were shockingly miserable to me and I ended up ditching them. I know you just need them to frame your shots. I just can’t stand looking at my chicken-scratch and then expect others to look at them and know what the fuck I’m trying to do.

In a smart, therapeutic move, and I really mean it’s therapy because it’s been relaxing me — I’ve started learning artwork again. How to draw. That sort of thing. I’ve always known the basics: some perspective. human proportions. Some heads. I think at some point in my life I never continued so I draw exactly where I stopped progressing: sketchy stick figures with no definition and just a cross in the heads to identify which way the head is looking.

Part of the Cinematic Skillset Improvement Series is also learning to be a better artist. And you know what I found out that I think any real artist will agree: I had to slow down.

The moment I slowed the fuck down to actually pay attention to what I wanted to do, my drawing studies improved — almost rapidly. Right now, I’m just repeating the basics and, like I mentioned about writing, I’m just doing it often and regularly. No particular storyboards yet. Just a sketchbook. Sketching what I see and/or perfecting perspective angles and such.

Soon, I’ll carry it over to storyboarding the three short films. I will NOT shoot any of these without finished storyboards.

By the way, including a few Gumroad art PDF’s, the following are part of my ‘Art School’ daily rotation:

 

If I can get just an ounce better with my hand drawing, I’ll feel better about posting storyboards for projects.

Goals To Achieve

Each film ramps up targeted skills I want to get better at.

  • Camera framing/motion
  • Narrative control
  • Color grading / lighting / visual effects

As a matter of fact, each of these films will begin — top left corner — with notes on what that particular film is looking to achieve.

In a ‘keeping relevant’ plan of action, each one of these shorts are film festival worthy, too.

Not every film festival. Lord God almighty! I need to write a whole separate post on my festival experience alone. Not yet, though. Suffice to say, it’s been an experience and as equally picky these festivals can be selecting ME — I have to be equally selective where a film gets entered. The whole ‘submit to everyone’ of 2023 was quaint for the first film to get maximum coverage and understanding of the film festival circuit. But Jesus! Next round of submissions will be laser targeted.

The above all seems like I’m taking myself back to film school.

It’s essential. I know others out there that would probably take their two finished films and call it a day. Like my storytelling, like my artwork for storyboards, they can all only get better. They MUST improve. I have to get up each morning and purposely MAKE them better — and that’s not a path everyone will want to walk with me on.

By the way, I’m still stuck on script writing at the moment so, no pressure. Maybe it’s just not the right time and I’m going to chill and do some art practice.

I think — anyone reading should gain from my insights over the year(s) — it has to be the two words: No pressure.

Slow down.

[Updated: 5/5/2024]

The Social Challenge Official Trailer is released.

I can now be relieved that I was 100% correct in shooting this film when I did. At the time, the wisdom of shooting this film AFTER shooting Predawn (and still paying that one off), had to be a touch crazy. Now, one film released last year. Another film released this year for film festivals along with a podcast. A seemingly regular slate.

Social Challenge actually fits into the ‘Cinematic Skillset’ motif. Shots were improved over Predawn. The editing process is smoother (though oddly slower) and color grading, at least for the trailer, has raised a few levels higher. Much more consistent. I am not including Social as part of the current experiment of skillset improvements, but by the nature of timing, it’s a prime example of ‘you need to actually do this to sharpen your skills’ If I didn’t shoot Social when I did, I would be waiting until July to shoot another film.

Before December 2024, DesktopEpics will have expected to have shot two more with a third prepping for early 2025. Very micro-sized projects as mentioned above to improve key areas of development and still inject content into the festivals.

I’m exhausted, though. It’s Sunday and it’s my day off. Aside from finishing the Social Challenge trailer, I got nothing done on anything else.  Either I was sleeping or doing house chores. I’ll pick it all up again tomorrow.

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